Newspaper innovation: Not too much but too little

If you’re a newspaper editor, and you want some much needed inspiration, you’ll want to add the blogs of Melanie Sill and John Robinson to RSS feeds or daily reading, and follow both John and Melanie on Twitter. John recently stepped down as the editor of the Greensboro News & Record in North Carolina, and Melanie recently made a similar move, leaving the top job at the Sacramento Bee in California. John wrote an excellent post about rebuilding a newspaper’s relationship with its community last week, and in her most recent post, Melanie looks at newspaper innovation. It comes after the ombudsman at the Washington Post, Patrick Pexton, agreed with some readers who thought the Post was innovating too quickly. (As someone who lived in Washington for seven years and considered the Post my local paper, it was always a schizophrenic place with a lot of digital innovation under Jim Brady while the print offices in Washington tried to change as little as possible.)

Melanie’s thoughts on the pace of innovation?

Most newspapers are stuck in the late 20th century formulas, scarcely varied across the country, for section concepts (even names) and types of coverage. These conventions, moreover, carry over into digital forms, and only in the past couple of years have we begun to see new forms made only for digital channels.Amid legitimate struggle in newsrooms to make this outdated formula work with vastly reduced staffs and greatly increased production demands, there’s not enough attention on creative breakthroughs — the kind of conceptual innovation needed today. What should a print edition do in a 24/7 news world? How is it differentiated from other platforms in content, format and organization?

Yes! Digital is different. It’s something digital folk have been saying since the 1990s. It’s not enough to shovel print content onto the web just because both print and the web are largely text-based. Just as reading a newspaper out on TV would seem silly (although there is some value in the newspaper reviews common on European television), simply copying text to the web was always an approach lacking imagination.

  • How is digital different?
  • What is possible in digital, on the web and via mobile, that isn’t possible in print?
  • How does this change audience expectations about news and information?
  • How do we meet those expectations?
  • How can use those differences to come up with new opportunities for revenue to support the work we do?

This is what I’ve been thinking about since I first became an ‘internet news editor’ in 1996. We’re at a pivotal time, and it’s great to see leadership from veterans like John and Melanie. I look forward to working with leaders like them in the future.

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  1. Reg Chua
    Reg Chua at |

    Kevin, it’s amazing that it’s taken this long for the notion that digital provides for completely different types of content to sink in – but then again, perhaps it’s not that surprising. Most other new media have had to undergo similar transitions. That said, I do find it amazing that we’re only at the start of that conversation – that so much of the discussion of digital is focused on speed and interaction with audience. Not that that’s not important, but it misses other key characteristics of digital, including persistence, aggregation (in the sense of building meta-stories from stories) and data visualization and interaction. But one hopes all that is also gaining traction. Reg

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